DWI/DUI Manslaughter Laws and Penalties in Virginia

dwi manslaughter laws penaltiesAny DUI or DWI offense is serious; however, if someone dies as a result of a DUI accident you caused, you will likely face severe penalties.

However, there are defenses to DUI manslaughter cases, and it is essential you understand what they are and how to pursue them.

At Andrew Flusche, Attorney at Law, PLC, we stand up for clients facing DWI manslaughter charges. Attorney Andrew Flusche founded the firm in 2008.

Since then, he has achieved a successful track record defending the rights of everyday citizens who face the overwhelming prosecutorial power of the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s DWI Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is against the law in Virginia, as it is in every other state.

In the majority of Virginia DUI cases, police officers pull a driver over and make contact. If the officer suspects the driver may be under the influence, it becomes a DUI case.

However, a very small subset of DUI cases involves fatal accidents. This is where DUI manslaughter and aggravated DUI manslaughter charges come into the picture.

Virginia’s DUI-related manslaughter laws are harsh, and anyone facing these serious charges needs to understand what the State must prove and how to defend against the allegations.

What Is DUI Manslaughter?

In Virginia, DUI manslaughter or DWI manslaughter occurs when someone drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causes an accident where someone else dies.

The Code of Virginia § 8.2-36.1 provides, “[a]ny person who, as a result of driving under the influence … unintentionally causes the death of another person, shall be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.”

What Is Aggravated DUI Manslaughter?

Prosecutors can bring DUI manslaughter charges after any drunk or drugged driving accident that results in the death of another person.

Of course, in most of these cases, the driver had no intention to cause any harm to the victim; it was simply a bad accident.

However, under the Code of Virginia § 8.2-36.1(b), prosecutors can also charge aggravated DWI manslaughter if they believe a driver’s conduct exhibited a “reckless disregard for human life.”

Punishments for DWI-Related Manslaughter

In Virginia, any voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charge is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. DUI manslaughter is no exception.

However, aggravated DUI manslaughter, while still a Class 5 felony, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, aggravated DWI manslaughter carries a mandatory one year in jail.

This means that, despite how compelling your defense or mitigating circumstances are, the judge lacks the authority to sentence you to any less than one year in jail.

In addition to the possibility of fines and jail time, a DUI manslaughter conviction also carries other consequences.

For example, under the Code of Virginia § 46.2-391, a DUI manslaughter conviction results in the revocation of your driver’s license for a period of at least five years.

Once five years have passed, you must then petition the court and prove that there is “good cause” for your driving privilege to be restored.

Even if the judge agrees, you must install an ignition interlock system on your vehicle for at least six months and comply with any other conditions the judge orders.

Related Charges to DUI Manslaughter Offenses

If you are arrested for DUI manslaughter, chances are you’ll be facing several charges in addition to those under §8.2-36.1.

For example, prosecutors will almost certainly charge you with DUI and may also bring hit-and-run charges if you leave the scene.

More concerning is that, depending on the facts, prosecutors are not prevented from bringing other homicide charges against you.

Section §8.2-36.1 specifically provides that “The provisions of this section shall not preclude prosecution under any other homicide statute.”

This means that the State may decide to bring murder charges against you as well. Of course, the vast majority of DUI manslaughter cases are not charged as murders; however, the possibility exists.

Defenses to DWI Manslaughter Cases

Like every other crime, there are several defenses that may apply in a DUI manslaughter case. These defenses typically fall into one of a few categories.

You Were Not Driving

Perhaps the most basic defense to a DUI manslaughter case (and any DUI case, for that matter) is disputing the State’s claim that you were operating a motor vehicle.

Unlike in a traditional DUI, police officers do not always have the opportunity to observe the driver behind the wheel in a DUI manslaughter case.

This is because they are usually called to the scene after the fact, and by that time, the driver and passengers may have exited the vehicle.

Clearly, for a judge or jury to find you guilty of DUI manslaughter, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the one driving.

If you didn’t admit to driving when asked by police (note: never admit to anything after a DUI accident for exactly this reason), then the government may have a difficult time putting you behind the wheel.

You Were Not Intoxicated

DUI manslaughter cases pose real challenges for prosecutors due to the fact that these cases don’t follow the typical procedure of a DUI arrest.

For example, after an accident, police officers may be focused on ensuring injured parties get medical treatment and may be less concerned about finding out whether you are impaired.

Thus, sometimes, chemical tests are not performed in a timely manner, so the results might be inadmissible. In some DUI manslaughter cases, there is no chemical test evidence at all, perhaps because you were immediately taken to the hospital.

While the lack of chemical test results doesn’t preclude the government from bringing a case against you, it certainly makes it much harder to prove you were intoxicated.

Often, in these situations, prosecutors will argue that the facts suggest that you were intoxicated.

For example, prosecutors may point to any of the following in an attempt to prove you were intoxicated absent chemical test evidence:

  • An open container of alcohol or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle,
  • Witness statements that you appeared intoxicated,
  • Police officers’ observations that you looked impaired,
  • Your own statements admitting you were drinking or had used drugs, or
  • Evidence that you were driving erratically prior to the accident.

Of course, there may be innocent explanations for all of these things. However, these are the things that prosecutors focus on when trying to prove that you were impaired.

You Didn’t Cause the Accident

The above two defenses negate the elements of the DUI manslaughter charge and the underlying DUI charge.

However, those defenses don’t apply in every situation, and when they don’t, you can still argue that you did not cause the accident.

Under Virginia’s DWI manslaughter laws, it is only a crime if you are driving under the influence, get into an accident, and your driving causes the other person’s death.

The State must prove all three elements to convict you. Put another way, if you were driving while under the influence, and another driver ran a red light, crashed into you, and died as a result of their injuries—you may be guilty of DUI but not of DUI manslaughter.

This defense is very fact specific. It requires a skilled attorney to dissect the accident to refute the prosecution’s claim that you were at fault.

And remember, the prosecution has the burden to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, so if it is not entirely clear who was at fault, you may be able to beat the case.

Why Hire an Attorney to Defend Against DUI Manslaughter Charges?

A charge of DUI manslaughter is incredibly serious and, if not handled properly, can subject you to a decade of imprisonment.

There are many defenses that can result in reduced charges or an all-out acquittal.

But DUI-related manslaughter laws in Virginia are complex, and it’s best to place your case—and your future—in the hands of an attorney with extensive experience handling these cases.

Were You Arrested for DUI Manslaughter in Virginia?

If you were recently arrested and charged with DWI or DUI manslaughter, it is imperative that you reach out to an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

At Andrew Flusche, Attorney at Law, PLC, we have more than 15 years of hands-on experience aggressively defending clients who face serious criminal and traffic-related charges.

We are immediately available to meet with you to discuss your case, provide you with our initial thoughts, and discuss what our next steps should be to start creating the most compelling defense possible.

To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with a Virginia DWI manslaughter lawyer today, call 540-318-5824.

You can also reach us through our online contact form, and one of our attorneys will be in touch shortly.

Ryan Fitzgerald

I'm Ryan Fitzgerald; everyone calls me Fitz. I partnered with Andrew to form a focused defense team that is devoted to your needs. I have over 12 years of experience as a former prosecutor, so I know what the Commonwealth wants to see for negotiations and how to find the weak spots in their case. My experience ranges from reviewing all incoming DWIs to prepare other prosecutors for court, to training officers how to build their DWI cases, to successfully prosecuting a thirty-year cold case homicide. Your initial consultation with me is free; you'll talk directly with me about your case and how we can leverage my experience and connections to obtain the best possible result.

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